Criticizing TCS on Self-Sacrifice

In 2002, I wrote an email criticizing Taking Children Seriously (TCS) regarding self-sacrifice. This was around 7 months after I found TCS. No one defended TCS. Already, by that date, TCS’s founders, Sarah and DD, were largely unwilling to respond to public debate and criticism about TCS.

I received only one reply. It was from a TCS beginner who wrote 7 posts total. They didn’t defend TCS. They claimed that no one ever does pure self-sacrifice because whenever someone acts they are choosing that action on purpose which shows they like something about it. For example, if a parent “sacrifices” and feels “resentment, self-pity, and other negative feelings” but feels justified in having those feelings, then that’s an emotional reward that they’re gaining.

Aside: That was their second to last TCS post. Their last post was favorable towards breastfeeding a toddler with both the mother and toddler naked, with the toddler erect and masturbating, and with the toddler having verbally requested that the mother be naked. Another poster in the same thread brought up breastfeeding children having “unlimited freedom to explore their mother’s bodies”. I don’t understand why, but Sarah and David Deutsch had repeatedly encouraged and defended those kinds of ideas, and were good at attracting members with those sorts of interests and views. These 2002 posts did not receive criticism. I think there was a significant flaw in TCS in this area.

Back to self-sacrifice: I’m happy with how well my criticism holds up given how early on I wrote it (though I dislike some of the writing style). It’s nice to see that I wasn’t just accepting whatever TCS/DD/Sarah said. I think I was basically right: self-sacrifice is bad and should never be done on purpose. I remember later arguing that you can never know when it’s time to give up on problem solving – either you’ve already failed, or you haven’t failed yet and shouldn’t give up in advance. You can’t know in advance that you will fail at problem solving. You can know in advance that a particular category of solution isn’t going to work out (b/c e.g. it requires ordering a part that takes a week to arrive, but you only have a day left). But even at the last second you could change your mindset to be OK with a doing the best thing available under the circumstances, so last second solutions are always available to try for. This relates to the method I developed involving backing off to less ambitious goals when stuck and saying things like “Given X and Y, what should we do?” (That’s what you consider if you’re stuck on X and Y. Just treat them as givens, as part of circumstances, and consider what to do in that situation. Like X could be that you and another person disagree about an issue, so the question becomes what to do given that unresolved disagreement. Resolving the disagreement is not the only way to find a common preference.)

I think it was really bad that TCS intentionally advocating self sacrifice. I think it shows that Sarah and David Deutsch were not as intellectual or principled as they thought.

Overall, I think TCS had good and bad ideas mixed together. It has some important knowledge but also some really bad ideas. Because some of the ideas are both unconventional and unrealistic, it can be dangerous if you don’t know a ton of philosophy – which virtually no one does. Although David Deutsch thought social services were not a meaningful danger, that was naivety or wishful thinking, and you actually could get your children taken away if you attempt TCS and then are honest about it with the government as Deutsch advised.

(Deutsch went so far as to praise a mother for showing naked sexual education videos – that most people would see as pornographic, not child-friendly – to not only her own ~10 year old child but also her child’s friend (who had conservative Christian parents), and telling the other child to lie to her parents about it. The parent had common sense doubts but felt pressured by TCS to share graphic sexual information with children, and Deutsch told her basically that her only error was the doubts, and that she was acting courageously and responsibly. It’s a good example of how TCS sometimes coercively bullied people to go against their reasonable, traditional, conventional, common-sense knowledge without adequately persuading them of alternative views. Deutsch further said that if social services should ever inquire about the matter, tell them the truth. He thought if the parent presented their actions as good feminism, they could get the government agents on their side. Listening to advice like that is seriously dangerous.)

I think I had a biased, misleading view of TCS because DD talked with me so much. He answered tons of my questions. But other people had much less information and learning help regarding TCS. (I’ve been reviewing old posts and chat logs.) A lot of stuff made more sense to me because I had inside info. DD explained things to me more than to other people. On list, he was often snide, ironic or mocking without explaining much, but I didn’t always see it because I had extra info to understand what his inadequately explained, mean points were. I shared a lot of ideas DD told me, as well as stuff I figured out myself, but it’s still a big deal when all the founders stop publicly discussing the radical, new, not-fully-baked ideas much.

As policy I’m going to try to keep my replies to unbounded threads more substantive, but… wtf???

Search for the text “Suppose a young male toddler often breastfeeds in the buff.” That’s the start of the anonymous post with two replies. The subject line they chose is “sexuality”. It’s June 2002.

I’ve been reviewing old discussions lately and I’m finding it easy to find a lot of wtf stuff in TCS posts, including from the founders. It’s more common in older posts from before you or I joined, back when Sarah posted and recruited more. I think it’s less common from people who joined the discussions because they liked The Fabric of Reality (that became a larger proportion of members over time).

unbounded doesn’t formal, polished or substantial. long chatty threads are fine. small comments are fine. it means all types of criticism and tangents are in bounds. i don’t think ur wtf reaction is something u should be very concerned about receiving criticism over. seems reasonable…

i don’t think commenting at all in this section implies you’re willing to have a super long discussion about all tangents. just some expectation of following up some, especially if you’re the topic starter. and meta criticism of dropping a topic is allowed, but that doesn’t mean you should never drop topics, it’s just sometimes you could drop a topic for a bad reason and someone could have a good criticism to share.

if the concern is meta crit of not expressing an opinion, like with a bare link … “wtf” is an opinion and takes sides. it’s not like posting a link without even saying whether you agree or disagree with it. i do think it’s usually bad to post something with no opinion of your own.

you could get meta crit about not explaining yourself, but i think it’s bad to demand everyone preemptively explain everything b4 getting questions or feedback. just stating conclusions sometimes is good and reasonable, and only a portion of them will get disagreements or questions, and you can’t predict in advance which ones will get which types of criticism or questions, so you don’t know which things to preemptively reply to. sometimes people complain in arguments that i’ll state some of my positions without giving full detail and arguments in the initial statement, but i think they’re just confused and don’t know how to organize discussions reasonably. i shouldn’t start arguing every relevant claim i want to mention before i even know which ones they disagree with.

What’s really notable about old wtf TCS posts is: I don’t think that Sarah Fitz-Claridge (who was Sarah Lawrence at the time) or David Deutsch changed their minds. They didn’t retract anything. I think they just stopped saying some stuff because people didn’t like it. And people are still finding TCS today and thinking (reasonably!) that it has their approval. But SFC and DD aren’t offering any discussion places where people can discuss problems with TCS, and are doing their best to prevent anyone from finding this forum.

And I think they see people disliking the idea “show porn to 10 year old neighbor children” as the same kind of issue as people disliking “treat children like full human beings”. I don’t think they differentiate and recognize that they were wrong and bad about some of the stuff. I think they are just like “people aren’t ready for TCS” and think that’s the cause of negative responses to e.g. their attacks on age of consent laws.

I’m unclear on where new people are getting the idea that TCS exists and is super great. DD and SFC took down almost all their material about TCS. Where do people read about TCS today? I doubt many people are reading FI mirrors of old articles. Do people just hear a little about it through word of mouth and then think they know what it is? Do they not realize there is any substantive depth to actually study and learn?

I would guess that people are hearing about TCS through podcasts and videos from DD followers, such as

They don’t have any forum or e-mail list for discussion but I’d guess they’re having some private discussions on social media such as Facebook and Twitter DMs. This is a bad way to spread ideas that would produce major changes if they were implemented. First, it prevents ideas from being as thoroughly criticised as they would be on a public forum. Second, the secrecy may result in some weirdness because it blurs the line between personal and philosophical discussion so that people may take sides in disputes based on personal relationships and feelings.

Acting in a sexual way toward children is very bad. A relationship between an adult and a child involves a very large power difference because adults are generally bigger, stronger and have a lot more resources and knowledge. Introducing sex to that relationship is asking for trouble and there is good reason for it to be considered criminal behaviour.

And if somebody is posting about showing porn to a ten year old or whatever, all you really know is that they claim such and such a thing happened. You don’t know what actually happened or the context or anything like that. So anyone who encourages or condones the poster’s behaviour is acting irresponsibly.

this reminds me that SFC was on Do Explain with Christofer Lövgren podcast episode.

Also I’ve seen some CritRat community people posting TCS articles or bits from it on twitter. It would be hard to find tweets so I’m not sharing links to those tweets.

My bad. I just realized that one of the link alan shared is a reddit post discussing that podcast.